President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr Shoigu, I know that the operation to liberate Aleppo, this city of crucial importance for Syria, has ended. What is the situation now?
Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu: The operation to liberate Aleppo was conducted in two stages.
The first stage was to liberate 115 districts, close to 82,000 square kilometres. Over this time, 7 humanitarian corridors were opened, enabling close to 110,000 people to leave the city, and 9,000 fighters laid down their arms. Most of them were amnestied in accordance with President Assad’s decision.
The second stage unfolded in the southern part of east Aleppo. This involved imposing a ceasefire since December 15 in order to carry out a massive humanitarian operation that saw the withdrawal from the city of radical fighters, together with their families, of women and children. This stage made it possible for us, together with our Turkish and Iranian colleagues and our colleagues from the Syrian authorities, of course, to organise the departure from the city of nearly 34,000 people over these days. Most of them, 14,000, are men, but there are also 8,500 children and a similar number of women.
A large group of Russian Armed Forces officers worked on this operation round the clock, monitoring all of the departure routes with the help of drones, and also web cameras at the entry and exit points. Seven command posts were set up in order to monitor the entire route the departing fighters and their family members travelled. The operation involved nearly 300 buses and 400 ambulances (380 ambulances, to be exact).
We tried to involve in this work all the groups present in the area: UN representatives and the various international organisations. The International Red Cross and the World Health Organisation were of greatest help during the operation, with close to 60 specialists taking part.
The next equally important part has to do with mine clearing operations. In order to provide safe passage through these corridors we had to clear a number of areas of the mines planted by the militants. This was quite challenging considering the weather.
The operation is complete, and I cannot fail to mention that it was carried out at your instruction and in close contact with our colleagues from Turkey and Iran.
This should be followed by the next stage. In our opinion, we are close to reaching an agreement on a complete ceasefire across Syria.
I can use this map to report on the progress in this operation. This is the remaining part, the one that was fully liberated by midnight last night. Demining units are currently working there since a lot of buildings have been abandoned and they pose a very serious threat to civilians returning here.
Many people are returning to the other part of the city. Our specialists are working with their Syrian colleagues. In many neighbourhoods power and water supplies have been restored and humanitarian aid is being delivered. Unfortunately, while we have everything it takes to ensure this much talked-about humanitarian access, we do not see any willingness to do so.
I would like to conclude, Mr President, by saying that we sent a military police battalion there last night to ensure order in the liberated areas.
This ends my report.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you. Mr Shoigu, we are well aware that liberating Aleppo from radical groups is an important part of the efforts to fully normalise the situation in Syria, and hopefully, in the region in general. There is no question that this work, in particular at the concluding phase when we launched a humanitarian operation, was done with the direct involvement and even a decisive influence of our service personnel.
In this respect, I ask you to pass on to them my best wishes and my thanks for their work, and the same for the Defence Ministry and General Staff heads.
Together with our partners from Iran and Turkey, and of course with the Syrian government, other countries in the region and all countries concerned, we will need to continue efforts to achieve a final settlement. We must make the greatest effort now to end hostilities everywhere in Syria, and we will, at least, do our sincerest best to achieve this goal.
Thank you very much.
Sergei Shoigu: Thank you, Mr President.
I should take this opportunity too to brief you on the implementation of your instructions regarding the agreements with the Turkish and Iranian governments.
You gave the instruction to end the blockade of another four settlements. Two of these are Shiite settlements in the Idlib region, al-Fuah and Kefraya. The operation there is complete too and more than 1,500 women, children, elderly and wounded have been evacuated to Aleppo, where they are now in decent conditions and are receiving aid.
Your other instruction concerned ending the blockade of two settlements near Damascus. This operation is complete too and a total of around 9,000 people have been evacuated from there to Idlib.
As far as the surrender of weapons goes, more than 9,000 firearms and a large number of improvised mine-throwing devices have been surrendered.
Vladimir Putin: This is an important part of the work given that this kind of non-military action, humanitarian swaps, can raise the level of trust between the parties to the conflict. This in turn creates conditions for strengthening the ceasefire regime, and so we will continue working in this direction.
Sergei Shoigu: Thank you, Mr President.